Research News

Why a VU junior studies squirrels on campus

Everyone sees squirrels running around Vanderbilt’s campus, but one Arts and Science major decided to turn these adorable rodents into a research project.

Dara Craig, who is majoring in ecology, evolution and organismal biology and in anthropology, is studying the squirrel population on campus as a project for an earth and environmental sciences class. She set up camera traps around Rand dining hall and The Martha Rivers Ingram Commons.

“The camera has this invisible, infrared line, and anytime something breaks that line, it will trigger the camera to take a picture,” Craig explained.

The class is taught by Assistant Professor Maria Luisa Jorge, who uses these cameras to look at large mammals in South America.

“My task was to do something with camera traps, and we don’t have any peccaries (New World pigs) in Nashville, but we have lots of squirrels,” Craig said.

Craig visited campus as a high school student and knew it was the right university for her. “I have really enjoyed the biology department here. I’ve also gotten involved in choir and Vanderbilt Student Volunteers for Science. And I really love Nashville—there’s just a lot to do,” the Sanibel, Florida, native said.

But you can’t forget those squirrels.

“I came to campus and fell in love with it,” she said. “All the little cute areas with benches and lots of trees. And lots of squirrels!”